| By Bennett Kelly

The Fordham Men’s Tennis team caught the attention of Atlantic 10 conference foes during the fall semester by storming to a 6-0 record backed by strong performances in all matches, winning all but one by 7-0 shutouts. Through six early spring semester matches, the Rams’ record now stands at 10-2. Fordham’s ten wins include a 2-0 conference mark, with the Rams dismantling major rival La Salle in September and defeating St. Bonaventure on the road in a Feb. 17 matchup. For a team entering the season anxious to prove it belongs in the conference’s top tier, the Rams’ intended rise to the A-10 elite is right on schedule.

Individual performances have earned the Rams two trips to the conference honor roll in the early spring semester. Sophomore and first singles player Kuba Kowalski earned A-10 Men’s Performer of the Week honors on Feb. 13, after posting singles victories over New Jersey Tech’s Holger Norregaard and Cornell’s top-100 player Venkat Iver. In both matches, Kowalski rallied to third-set finishes after dropping each first set. The sophomore also recorded a 1-1 record in doubles play. “It feels good, definitely,” said Kowalski, on being the first Fordham player to earn Performer of the Week since the 2003 season. “It is a celebration of the hard work I put on the court and as a rare distinction for Fordham, it’s a good indicator of where our program is going. It’s good to be named among the top players in the region.”

Following Kowalski one week later with the accolade for A-10 Rookie of the Week is freshman Peder Gram. Gram defeated St. Bonaventure’s Trevor Haskell in straight sets at sixth singles in Fordham’s 6-1 victory, and won at third doubles with fellow freshman Max Peara. Ever the statesman, Gram is “happy because it’s also a team award. Kuba won his too and getting recognized is good for the program. I’m just happy Fordham is winning awards because its a good thing for all the athletes at our school.” Gram is one of six freshmen to see court time this season.

After a three and a half month layoff from fall matches, the Rams returned to action on January 28th, facing cross-town rival Columbia. Despite the nationally competitive Lions turning Fordham upside down with a 7-0 loss, Fordham is confident heading into a heavy home slate of conference opponents and the highly anticipated battle for the Manhattan Cup on March 9th, to be played at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing versus the St. John’s Red Storm.

St. John’s and Fordham have both played two prominent Ivy League schools in Columbia and top-50 ranked Cornell. St. John’s took down rival Columbia 4-2, three weeks after Columbia blanked the Rams in January, but both Fordham and the Red Storm lost to Cornell by 4-3 scores.

In conference play, Fordham earned its second league victory of the season at St. Bonaventure on February 17th, a 6-1 win that head coach Cory Hubbard believes should put Fordham in contention for the top four or five teams of the conference. “Bonaventure is top 4-5 in the conference every year, and even though they’re a little down this year, to go up and win 6-1 against a solid team puts us where we want to be.”

Sandwiched between the losses to Columbia and Cornell came a victory over NJIT, which saw the Rams fight past two deficits after losing the doubles point and a late 3-2 deficit. The Rams claimed the final two points in three setters from the first and third singles positions behind sophomores Kuba Kowalski and Mischa Koran. Fordham also dropped the doubles point in the narrow 4-3 loss to Cornell. Focusing on doubles play in practice has been crucial for the Rams in anticipation of Fordham’s heated conference schedule. “The double point is so huge with momentum and confidence, we’ve taken the time to work on it and spent the last month really focusing on doubles in practice.”

The Rams have won the doubles point in three straight victories, against St. Bonaventure, Hartford and Boston University.

The Rams return to the Bronx’s Rose Hill campus on March 11th for a final home stretch that concludes with nine home matches in five weeks. “We think we have a big home court advantage,” said Hubbard. “Last year the school and student body really got behind the team with strong attendance and support and the guys are really looking forward to it. Our goal is still to win the conference championship and make a national tournament appearance and at this point that goal is within reach. We’re hoping the students come out to make a big impact in creating a tough environment for opponents.”

Fordham’s next chance at securing some hardware comes in this Friday’s Manhattan Cup against St. John’s. The matchup is especially significant for Fordham player Mischa Koran, who is playing his first season at Fordham after transferring from St. John’s. “For him this match has been circled and means a lot,” Hubbard said of the match for Koran. “To win we’re going to need to give a total team effort that’s become the staple of this team. As long as we continue to fight and give ourselves a chance hopefully we come out on top.”

Kuba Kowalski also has a chance to make a strong statement at first singles when he faces the 29th ranked player in the country, Vasko Mladenov, in the most anticipated head-to-head matchup of the day. The Manhattan Cup is Friday, March 9th at noon at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing


Bennett Kelly

<p>Bennett Kelly may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:bkelly1@fordham.edu">bkelly1@fordham.edu</a>.</p>